There are so many words of tefillah we say regularly that, unfortunately, do not register in our minds. They become “part of the furniture” and we fail to give them their proper due.
This week, we focus on one such section: Bameh Madlikin, recited on Friday nights by those who daven Nusach Ashkenaz. First, let’s see how it connects to our haftarah.
Sefer Yechezkhel, chapter 44 recounts many of the laws of the kohanim as does the beginning of Parshas Emor.
Most of Klal Yisrael are not kohanim, but there is something we do every Shabbos in which we are meant to feel as if we are. There were two mitzvos relating to the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash: to clean and prepare it for use (hatava) and then to light (hadlaka). Neiros Shabbos also has two components. Although the actual lighting should be done by the woman, the Mishna Berura (263:12) cites the Arizal who says that the husband should prepare the candles. This is why the Mishna (Shabbos 31b) says specifically hadlakas haner. Each married couple acts like kohanim every erev Shabbos.
This is why we read a chapter of mishnayos in shul Friday night about Shabbos lights.
Certain parts of the siddur are actual sections of the Oral Torah – mishnayos and braisos.
Every morning the first kaddish of the day follows the braisa of Rabi Yishmael which delineates 13 rules of how to derive certain halachos in the oral law. These rules really require a few minutes of thought – yet, the speed at which we recite them does not do the braisa justice.
The same holds true for Bameh Madlikin, which is actually the second chapter of mishnayos in Maseches Shabbos.
The source of reciting this perek is the Tur (Orach Chaim 270) and the commentaries there say that it began in the times of the Gaonim. Perhaps in those times there was more time to learn before davening, unlike today.
Beyond the halachic and basic pshat meaning of the mishnayos, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zt”l, in his sefer Ein Eyah, Shabbos 21a, explains deeper messages for some of the words in Bameh Madlikin.
The mishna itemizes those oils unsuitable for the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbos candles. The Gemara discusses the identity of one of these ineligible oils, shemen kik: “Shmuel said, ‘I asked all of the seafarers, and they told me that there is a certain bird in the faraway towns overseas called a kik.’ Rabi Yitzchak said it is cottonseed oil. Rabi Shimon ben Lakish said it is oil from a plant known as the kikayon of Yona.”
Rav Kook explains that these three chachamim were actually discussing a far more significant question: What is the source of true happiness and success in life? This topic is inherently connected to Shabbos, as it is a day of introspection, when we take a break from life’s hectic pace and examine our lives and our goals. The Shabbos candles in particular are a representation of our spiritual radiance and shalom bayis, inner peace, as Chazal say.
The various oils used to supply the lights symbolize different forms of wealth and success. Some oils burn more smoothly and produce a brighter light than others, as some types of success generate greater inner joy and satisfaction. The mishna is teaching us which goals are truly worthwhile and how we should define true success.
Oils that do not light well, oils that are not “drawn to the wick,” are disqualified. This means that goals that do not match the inner soul will not truly fulfill our needs and rejoice our spirits. Real success must be “drawn to the wick,” it must be fundamentally related to the soul and its spiritual goals.
The three explanations of kik oil, which cannot be used for the Shabbos lights, correspond to three types of artificial success. Shmuel spoke of overseas towns in distant locales, far away from centers of Torah study. These places are destinations for merchants pursuing wealth and riches, and sailors, whom Shmuel noted, are typically individuals with low ethical standards. Thus the kik bird of the faraway towns represents those who chase after money and profits at the expense of a Torah family, of communal and ethical life. This is the first false goal that should be rejected.
The second false goal is not wealth itself, but the lavish lifestyle and material pleasures it can buy. According to Rabi Yitzchak, kik is cottonseed oil. Grapes and their primary product, wine, are a symbol of joy and we inaugurate festive occasions with a glass of wine as part of halacha. Cotton, on the other hand, is a metaphor for superficial happiness. The leaves of the cotton plant are similar to those of a grapevine, and in Hebrew cotton is called tzemer gefen, literally “grape-wool.” Like the grape, the cotton plant provides us with a very important product. However, the use of cotton is strictly external, producing clothing to cover the body. Unlike true grapes, this “cotton” joy does not touch the soul and cannot truly warm the heart. So, too, a person who spends his life pursuing material pleasures will discover that, despite his efforts, he will fail to attain true, inner happiness.
Rabi Shimon ben Lakish spoke of Yonah’s kikayon plant, indicating a fundamental aspect that helps us distinguish between true and false success. What was the characteristic of the kikayon? “In one night it appeared and in one night it was gone,” (Yonah 4:10). Short-lived pleasures and quickly forgotten distractions are not suitable for the inner joy and light as represented by the Shabbos candles. Enduring happiness may only be attained through sincere efforts in spiritual pursuits, in Torah study, mitzvos and acts of kindness. (The above from Ein Ayah was based on the explanations and words of Rabbi Chanan Morrison.)
In order to make Bameh Madlikin more meaningful, we must spend time studying its many aspects.